In Valerie McConoughy's first-grade class at Veterans Elementary in Ellicott City, students are evenly split: seven are Baltimore Ravens fans and seven are fans of the Washington Redskins.
The mix of purple and burgundy will likely be a common sight in Howard County this week, as the area prepares for the rare and intense Battle of the Beltway, when the Redskins play host to the Ravens at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at FedEx Field in Landover.
Because of scheduling conference play — the Ravens are in the AFC North and the Redskins are in the NFC East — the two teams meet during the regular season only once every four years, though they often meet in the preseason. The Ravens are 3-1 in regular-season play against the Redskins, beating them in 1997, 2004 and 2008, and each of the games was decided by 14 points or less.
"This isn't a traditional rivalry, like the Redskins and (Dallas) Cowboys, or the Ravens and (Pittsburgh) Steelers," said Veterans music teacher Tim Viets, wearing a vintage Redskins sweater. "It's more of a rivalry of proximity than a historical rivalry, but it's still fun to not like each other. It's all in good fun."
It could be a crucial game for the Ravens, as they try to recover from a 23-20 loss to the Steelers, their AFC North rival. With a 9-3 record, the Ravens are in the running for a first-round postseason bye. The Redskins have won three straight, including Monday night's 17-16 win against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Though some Redskins fans at Veterans — such as Viets and secretary Maria Martinez — feel they're outnumbered, Daniel Nairn, a student assistant at Veterans and Redskins fan, said the school had "an eclectic mix" of fans. Between the groups of teachers with differing loyalties, good-natured bickering has taken place throughout the week.
"It's fun to have that rivalry on the side," Nairn said. "If you're having a tough day, someone's there to pick you up, even if they're talking trash."
Days before the game students in McConoughy's class were already excited about it.
"Go Ravens," cried out Reagan Hubbard, 7, a Veterans first-grader wearing a Joe Flacco jersey. "Boo Redskins. ... If (the Ravens) win, it'll be exciting. I think they'll make the playoffs and it'll be awesome for them to win (another) trophy."
Her classmate, Cecily Lowther, 7, disagreed.
"I really want to see the Ravens lose," Cecily said. "I don't like the Ravens at all."
Nairn and McConoughy both said the game was a good chance to teach the students about sportsmanship.
"It does create a tough rivalry, so after the decision Sunday, it'll be interesting to see some of the kids and how they deal with it," Nairn said. "We have to steer them to be positive, remind them it's just a game."